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More allegations of private school burning tax dollars

Zephyrhills, Florida- After the 10 News Investigators reported on alleged abuse of tax dollars at the private Zephyrhills Christian Academy, more than a dozen people connected to the school came forward identifying other problems.

The private school, which collected well over $300,000 from the state this year, has refused to address the allegations to 10 News.  But it may soon have to answer to the state, which has taken the first step toward an investigation of its McKay Scholarship usage. 

If the state finds that the school is not meeting standards, Zephyrhills Christian Academy (ZCA) could face a reprimand, suspension, or revocation of its right to receive tax dollars.

Of ZCA's roughly 129 students, 28% received McKay Scholarships this year for learning disabilities, grossing more than $135,000 for the school.  Yet parents complained the school didn't have personnel on-hand to help students with disabilities.

Another 38% of ZCA students receive "Step Up for Students" scholarships for low-income families, which brings in roughly $200,000 for the school annually.  Only 34% of students at ZCA pay their own way, but some former students have suggested the school didn't charge them full tuition. 

Upset parents tell the 10 News Investigators all of the students at ZCA eventually find out they are years behind their peers at public schools.

"I was told (my elementary school-aged children) wouldn't have problems with (standardized) tests," said one father who wanted to remain unidentified.  "When I had them tested, they were (already) two years behind."

The father said Mike Smith, the principal of the school and pastor at the church, cared more about funding a football team than a successful school.  He said Smith even pulled his son out of ZCA to be home-schooled so he could play football at Zephyrhills High School.

An official with ZCA's league said Smith told him it was because the move gave him a "better chance at landing a scholarship."  Smith later disbanded the ZCA football team, claiming he didn't have old enough kids to compete.

Smith referred 10 News to his attorney, who refused to comment on any of the allegations.

The Dept. of Education wouldn't provide a timetable of when an investigation may move forward, but 10 News will continue to check on its progress.

Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips to noah@wtsp.com.


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